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U.S. Reportedly Refused Israeli Plea to Raid Iran

Instead, Bush authorizes covert action to strike Tehran’s nuclear efforts

Image: Iran's Natanz nuclear plant
A November 2005 photo shows the nuclear enrichment plant of Natanz in central Iran. (Photo credit: Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA)

Jan. 10, 2009

WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush rejected a plea from Israel last year to help it raid Iran’s main nuclear complex, opting instead to authorize a new U.S. covert action aimed at sabotaging Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, The New York Times reported.

Israel’s request was for specialized bunker-busting bombs that it wanted for an attack that tentatively involved flying over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz, where the country’s only known uranium enrichment plan is located, the Times reported Saturday in its online edition.

Nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz
(Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

The White House deflected requests for the bombs and flyover but said it would improve intelligence-sharing with Israel on covert U.S. efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

The covert efforts, which began in early 2008, involved plans to penetrate Iran’s nuclear supply chain abroad and undermine electrical systems and other networks on which Iran relies, the Times said, citing interviews with current and former U.S. officials, outside experts and international nuclear inspectors who spoke on condition of anonymity. The covert program will be handed off to President-elect Barack Obama, who will deciding whether to continue it.

According to the Times, Bush decided against an overt attack based on input from top administration officials such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who believed that doing so would likely prove ineffective and could ignite a broader Middle East war.

Israel made the push for permission to fly over Iraq for an attack on Iran following its anger over a U.S. intelligence assessment in late 2007 that concluded Iran had effectively suspended its development of nuclear weapons four years earlier. Israel sought to rebut the report, providing evidence to U.S. intelligence officials that they said indicated the Iranians were still working on a weapon. …

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the centrifuges at Iran’s underground complex at Natanz, a target of an expanded American covert program. (Photo credit: Office of the Iranian President via the New York Times)

From the New York Times report:

Israeli officials asked Washington for a new generation of powerful bunker-busters, far more capable of blowing up a deep underground plant than anything in Israel’s arsenal of conventional weapons. They asked for refueling equipment that would allow their aircraft to reach Iran and return to Israel. And they asked for the right to fly over Iraq. Mr. Bush deflected the first two requests, pushing the issue off, but “we said ‘hell no’ to the overflights,” one of his top aides said. At the White House and the Pentagon, there was widespread concern that a political uproar in Iraq about the use of its American-controlled airspace could result in the expulsion of American forces from the country.

Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.

The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power by David E. Sanger

Reporting for the New York Times article was developed by its author, David E. Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the Times, in the course of research for The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power, to be published Jan. 13, 2010 by Harmony Books.


1/11/11 Update

Ex-CIA officer charged with leak to New York Times reporter (Adam Goldman, AP, Jan. 7, 2011) – Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, has been indicted on 10 counts related to improperly keeping and disclosing national security secrets after being accused of leaking classified information about Iran to a New York Times reporter. The case centered on leaks to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen for his 2006 book, State of War. The book revealed details about the CIA’s covert spy war with Iran. … Full story


Gaza Crisis

Latest News & Video of the Conflict in Gaza from CNN

The Jan. 19, 2009 issue of Time magazine offers a thought-provoking overview of some of the challenges Israel faces with respect to Hamas. Following are some excerpts from the article, titled “Can Israel Survive Its Assault on Gaza?

With each passing day, Israel’s war against Hamas grows riskier and more punishing, with the gains appearing to diminish compared to the spiraling costs — to Israel’s moral stature, to the lives of Palestinian civilians and to the world’s hopes that an ancient conflict can ever be resolved. …

Israeli politicians and generals know that the total elimination of Hamas’ entrenched military command could take weeks; it might be altogether impossible. …

The threat posed by Hamas is only the most immediate of the many interlocking challenges facing Israel, some of which cast dark shadows over the long-term viability of a democratic Jewish state. …

The offensive in Gaza may degrade Hamas’ ability to menace southern Israel with rocket fire, but, as with Israel’s 2006 war against Hizballah, the application of force won’t extinguish the militants’ ideological fervor. The anti-Israeli anger swelling in the region has made it more difficult for Arab governments to join Israel in its efforts to deal with Iran …

The broader aim of the Gaza war, Israeli security experts argue, was to send a message to Hamas’ sponsor, Iran. … But by killing hundreds of Palestinians, Israel may have undermined its hopes of forming common cause with moderate Sunni Arab states against the nuclear ambitions of Shi’ite Iran. …

8 Responses to “Bush Nixed Israeli Plea to Hit Iran”
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